Service Dog Requirements: A Hero Dog Checklist!

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: October 14, 2022

service dog requirements woman with her german shepherd

Service dogs really are something special. They are able to help people with disabilities or impairments do a range of activities and lead independent lives. So what are the service dog requirements? Any breed of dog can be a service dog. Any size, or shape, of dog, can be a service dog. But, not every dog has what it takes to be a service dog.

Service dog requirements are all about the “T” factor – that is their temperament and their trainability. Some are suited for this special type of service, others, like emotional support animals, simply bring us love, joy, and companionship.

What is a Service Dog?

The first step in understanding what it takes for a dog to be a service dog is to understand what they do. Service dogs are trained to perform very specific tasks to help individuals manage or overcome a disability in their daily lives.

What’s more, there are many types of tasks that service dogs can be trained to do or specialize in. These include:

  • Guiding someone with a visual impairment.
  • Retrieving items out of someone’s reach.
  • Alerting someone to sounds and noises.
  • Responding to symptoms and seizures.
  • Helping with mobility and stability.
  • Calming and reassuring veterans with PTSD.
  • Detecting allergens and harmful substances.

To be able to do their job, service dogs need to be able to stay calm and committed to the person they work with at home, and while they are in public.

ESA vs Service Dog Requirements: What’s the Difference?

Both psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs can help with someone’s mental health. The nature and severity of a disability can determine what the best type of dog is for you.

An emotional support animal provides relief from symptoms associated with a mental illness. ESAs, as part of a wider treatment plan, can help alleviate symptoms associated with a wide range of conditions. For example stress, depression, PTSD, anxiety, mood disorders, and many other emotional and psychological conditions.

If you are wondering if an emotional support animal may be right for you to help with your condition check out Certapet’s free pre-screening.

A psychiatric service dog may help someone with a psychiatric disability or severe mental health condition. For example, their specific training may be to remind a person to take medication. Or the dog can learn to alert or interrupt a person if they show behaviors or symptoms related to their illness.

service dog training young service dog retrieving woman's baking glove

Therapy Animals, ESAs, and Service Animals: Important Dogs with Important Jobs! 

The next thing to know is there are dogs doing different jobs! Therapy animals, emotional support animals, and service animals all sound similar. They also all do very important jobs in helping people in their lives. But, they don’t actually have the same role. The differences of what they do and where they help people include:

  • Therapy dogs receive training with their handler to work with people in group settings. For example in hospitals, airports, and rehabilitation or care facilities they can be a form of social support. They also help people one-on-one as part of therapy. For example, grooming a therapy dog can help with regaining motor skills after a person has suffered a stroke.
  • Service dogs receive extensive training to help people directly with tasks or activities that their disability limits or prevents them from doing on their own. Under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs can accompany their owners in a wide range of public areas because of the tasks they do.
  • Emotional support dogs or ESAs do not receive specific training to do their job, but they should still be taught good manners! The role of an ESA is all about the comfort and companionship they bring to someone with an emotional or mental disability. While ESAs don’t enjoy all the legal protection that service animals do, they are protected under two federal laws: The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

10 Characteristics the Best Types of Service Dogs Share

  1. To never show signs of aggression or hostility.
  2. They are eager to please.
  3. They are calm and easy going.
  4. Service dogs are responsive to training and willing to learn.
  5. They enjoy the company of people.
  6. They remain focused.
  7. These dogs can ignore distractions!
  8. They remain calm when greeted and touched by strangers.
  9. They are okay with other animals.
  10. These doggos are confident but not strong-willed or stubborn.


For a Service Dog, Training and Temperament are Everything

Training and temperament – the “T” factors really are everything when it comes to being a service dog.


A dog’s ability to learn the specific skills needed to help someone’s disability, and consistently perform in a range of situations is essential. People’s lives and their safety can depend on it.

There are professional organizations that train service dogs for later matching and rehoming. Often the dog has been trained and evaluated for months or years to ensure they are up to the task.

Another option is for both a dog and a person needing a service dog to be “trained” together with professional dog trainers.

People can also train their own service dog, and under the American’s with Disabilities Act have the right to do so. But usually, unless the person has extensive experience already in dog training and evaluating the dog’s overall suitability, it is better to work with the pros.

guide dogs golden retriever guiding their owner


A day in the life of a service dog may include being in the midst of a crowd, in a vehicle or on public transport, having their hair pulled and patted by strangers. All the while being alert and responsive to the person they “serve” by doing or helping with specific tasks and daily activities.

Service dogs often get a super-hero label for good reason – it’s not just about the vests they may or may not wear! What they are not, is as important as what they are. Dogs that make it through service dog training do not show fear, aggression, or hostility. They are not timid or afraid, nor are they stubborn and strong-willed or easily excited

A service dog has to be able to remain cool, calm, collected, and consistent wherever they are and whoever they come across. Service dogs need to be relaxed and well-balanced in terms of their nature and disposition. They need to be social and interactive with a range of people, but at the same time able to keep their focus on the needs of the person they work with.

How to Get a Service Dog: According to Service Dog Laws Certification and Registration are Not Necessary!

Are you looking for a service dog? A good place to start is with a search for breeders who have bred from service dog parents. Their puppies are more likely to be service dog material and have the trainability and temperament needed.

Otherwise, contact one of the service dog volunteer organizations for their recommendations. Or spend some time evaluating the temperament or disposition of a particular dog you may be considering training or having trained.

Contrary to popular belief, under the American’s with Disabilities Act, it is not mandatory to register or certify a service dog. Nor can establishments ask you provide any documentation for a service animal.

Stay Away From Service Dog Registration or Service Dog Certification!

Run with your tail between your legs from anyone offering service dog registration and certification! The ADA does not recognize these types of certificates and registration lists!

emotional support dog in training young puppy wearing blue dog vest

Do You Need Emotional Support? Any Dog Can Be an ESA!

If the symptoms of your emotional or mental health condition can be alleviated by the presence of an animal, an emotional support dog may be right for you! Service dogs help directly with specific tasks. An ESA does not need any special training to do what they do. They are an animal you bond with, and that can provide comfort.

You can travel on a flight with an ESA or have your emotional support dog with you in rental housing. Under the law, you can be asked to provide documentation in the form of an ESA letter to confirm you need the animal with you.

Our online pre-screening for an ESA letter takes around 5 minutes. If your answers indicate you may qualify, we can then connect you with a licensed health professional (LMHP) in your State. You can have your ESA letter in as little as 48 hrs!

Common Questions on Service Dog Requirements

Is a service dog the same as a therapy dog or an emotional support dog?

Do you need a certificate for a service dog?

What tasks can service dogs perform?

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